“What makes the difference in a marriage?” I asked myself as I watched the families of our ward come into the chapel for sacrament meeting. Some were newly married and some were elderly couples so well adjusted to each other that they looked and talked alike. But many were couples very much like my husband and me—with children in various stages of growth, a home to pay for, career, and Church callings adding to the challenges of living. There was a time when I naively thought that every temple marriage automatically continued “happily ever after.” But I have come to realize that all marriages are not equal. Throughout the Church, we can find marriages ranging from those charged with wonderful fulfillment to those filled with bitter disappointment. Marriages have their ups and downs—times of great contentment and personal growth, yet other times of frustration and lack of growth.
So what makes for a strong marriage? The answers are as varied as the people who give them: Spend time together one evening every week, always think of your partner before yourself, take occasional time away from children and responsibilities, never go to bed angry, make time every evening to talk together, marry the right person, be the right kind of husband or wife.
Love, unselfishness, continued courtship, open communication, righteousness—these all make a difference in marriage. But I am convinced that success in marriage starts with trust.
According to Latter-day Saint counselor Carlfred Broderick, the “really rewarding … experiences in life are to be found in trusting and lasting relationships. Security and stability, integrity and inner peace, certainty of another person’s commitment—these are profoundly satisfying things.” (Couples, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979, pages 158–59.)
Trust is as central to a happy marriage as faith is to a testimony. It is the very foundation upon which the relationship is built. If trust is strong and secure, the marriage can grow and flourish despite difficulties and crises. But if trust is weak or inconsistent, then the marriage will suffer under the pressures of daily life.
To really understand the importance of trust in marriage, we need to consider trust in oneself as a marriage partner, trust in one’s spouse, trust in marriage itself, and trust in the Lord.
Trust in a marriage partnership begins with trust in oneself. Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard speaks of the “leap of faith” that every person must make when accepting Christianity. We take a similar “leap” when we marry and commit ourselves to a person we have not known for a long time.
This leap of faith into marriage requires a high level of trust in ourselves. Marriage is a statement both of personal worth and of potential growth. By exchanging vows, we say to our spouse, “I see in you, as I see in myself, a wonderful, lovable person. I believe we can grow together and share the blessings of eternity.” The realization that someone has chosen us and loves us can do much to enhance our self-esteem and self-confidence.
The Doctrine and Covenants also tells us that, if we develop love for all mankind and let virtue govern our thoughts, our confidence will increase: “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” (D&C 121:45.)
What a blessing it is to have a faithful spouse! And how devastating it is for a husband or wife to be constantly suspicious of each other’s actions! Shakespeare, in The Winter’s Tale, illustrates this well. The marriage of Leontes and Hermione, the King and Queen of Sicilia, breaks up when Leontes cannot believe his wife to be as good and gracious as she is. In order to revive the marriage, he is told, “It is required you do awake your faith.” (Act 5, scene 3, line 11.) The marriage covenant is not only a promise of mutual fidelity, but also a promise of mutual trust in that fidelity.
But trust in one’s spouse involves more than just an assurance that he or she is morally faithful. We must also have confidence in each other’s integrity, intelligence, abilities, and potential. In fact, a lack of trust in the minor, daily duties of life can eventually damage a marriage just as much as a lack of trust in fidelity. The daily, nagging, criticizing, and withholding of support can weaken love until no foundation of trust is left.
Many experiences in my own marriage have convinced me that couples need to create a bond of trust. I have found that trust in my spouse does not require that we agree in every decision—that is simply unrealistic. It does mean, however, that I securely trust his efforts and good intentions. Then when differences occur, communication and compromise can take place in an atmosphere of good will and love. For both of us, forgiveness and tolerance have become important expressions of that basic trust. In such an environment, despite occasional errors in judgment, our trust has remained high, our love and understanding have grown, and our marriage bonds have become stronger. The trust that we have invested in each other has provided a rich harvest.
Marriage is a process; the wedding ceremony is only the event that begins it. Marriage is a lifetime of struggling together to become one. Indeed, it is often the struggle itself that strengthens our union and knits our hearts together.
A girlhood experience helped me to understand how struggle can strengthen us. My family raised partridges. My brothers and sisters and I spent hours gazing at the eggs in the incubator, waiting to see the little birds break out of their shells. The first time we watched the eggs hatch, we felt sorry for the little birds. It seemed to take so long and be so hard. (We didn’t know then that partridge chicks take from forty-eight to seventy-two hours just to break out of their shells.) We were afraid that the baby birds’ strength would not be equal to the task.
So we helped them a bit. As the birds began to hatch, we carefully and gently chipped away bits of the shells—a piece here and a piece there—to make it a little easier for them. We were thrilled when the first young birds emerged from their shells! But to our horror, we saw that every one of the birds had deformed feet. Over the next few days, they died, unable to stand or walk properly to their food or water.
We were grief- and guilt-stricken when we learned that our kindhearted assistance had caused the problem. The time and energy the chicks spend breaking through their eggshells strengthen and develop their legs, feet, and neck, so that they are ready to run around and maintain their balance when they finally emerge. Our attempts to make it easier for the birds destroyed them.
The same is true of marriage. By meeting the challenges, facing the difficulties, and working things out together, we grow closer to becoming one. If we have trust that marriage is a unifying process, we realize that the inevitable problems and conflicts that arise are stepping stones and not obstacles. Our troubles can bring us closer together instead of separating us.
There is in all of us something of the “natural man” spoken of by King Benjamin. (See Mosiah 3:19.) Because of the Fall, we are all subject to the temptings of Satan. The more we give in to those enticements, the more “carnal, sensual, and devilish” we become. (See Mosiah 16:3.) But Christ’s atonement offers us a chance to be reborn as his spiritual sons and daughters, to be cleansed of sin, and to receive from him the power of eternal life. Without his atonement, we would indeed be lost forever; with it, we can inherit all that God has. As we learn of the Atonement and as our faith in the Savior increases, we experience the cleansing effects of repentance and the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Our sense of self-worth increases.
In Mosiah 4, King Benjamin describes the changes that will occur in our lives if we base our trust firmly on the atoning power of the Savior. We will have no mind to injure one another, he says, but we will want to live peaceably. We will deal justly with each other. We will not neglect the needs of our families; we will teach our children “to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; … to love one another, and to serve one another.” (See Mosiah 4:11–15.) What better foundation could we have for a trusting, loving marriage?
My sister is an example of this concept. She has twelve children, which is in itself an overwhelming challenge. In addition, her husband’s heavy Church and career responsibilities keep him away from home many hours each day, requiring her to take over much of the care for their children. She has survived the career changes of her husband and the subsequent moves and financial worries that, by the world’s standards, might make a woman bitter and resentful, quick to blame any unhappiness on her husband. But she has remained cheerful and optimistic. Not once have I heard a word of self-pity or criticism.
How do you do it? I asked her. Long ago, she said, she realized that her happiness was her responsibility, independent of anyone else’s efforts. Her strength, she says, comes from her lasting testimony of the Savior. Her faith in him has allowed her to find happiness in whatever life brings her.
What if we find that trust is lacking in our own marriages? “I know I should trust in my spouse’s abilities and judgment,” one may say, “but those feelings just aren’t there.” Another may respond, “I try to have a positive attitude about my marriage, but I can’t seem to help resenting my spouse.” What can be done to build trust when it is lacking?
“Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things,” said Alma. “But … if ye will awake and … exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe.” (See Alma 32:21–27; italics added.) These words show us a way to develop trust—in ourselves, in our spouses, and in our Savior. We begin by having the desire to trust. Then we nurture this desire by our actions and the words—showing respect for each other, seeking and following the counsel of our spouses about decisions, speaking positively about our spouses to others, and supporting each other’s activities and interests. Before long, the seed of trust we have planted has grown and flourished and borne the sweet fruit of a happy marriage. I know this works—I have tried it in my own marriage.
Coupled with a desire to trust is a responsibility to earn trust. If our actions and attitudes are consistently honorable and well-intended, not only will our spouses be inclined to trust us, but, because of our increased self-confidence, we will feel a greater trust in our spouses.
By trusting in the Savior’s atonement, I learn to trust myself; and by trusting in my husband and in our marriage, I can come to trust in the promises the Lord has given us through his prophets. As President Spencer W. Kimball said:
“While marriage is difficult, and discordant and frustrated marriages are common, yet real, lasting happiness is possible, and marriage can be more joyful than the human mind can conceive. This is within the reach of every couple, every person. … It is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price.” (Marriage and Divorce, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976, page 16.)